As we move through the insta age clients are looking for more dynamic and entertaining experiences and coaches need to adapt their teaching styles and look to foster a more long-term approach to progression and retention of their new and existing clients.
This article is a synopsis of an online presentation to a group of snowsports instructors that provides some thoughts on changing the focus of coaching and the potential blockers in the way to making their coaching sessions more fun and memorable.
As passionate snow enthusiasts, our job is to spread the joy of the sport and create long-lasting bonds with clients. Quite often we consider that bond to be formed through sharing knowledge. That often requires the basic teaching of core skills like turning etc. However, quite often people's expectations of the lesson don't match our processes of delivery or the content we want to share.
We're now part of the social media revolution and people want to share experiences with their friends and family. They want to hype up the cool things they're up to. That often means they have a desire to get moving and have fun rapidly.
That means we need to refine our teaching methods and content focus.
Traditionally we would build fun within the sport by focusing on pushing the learning and challenge aspects of a lesson. However, that model may not work as well today. To deliver that desire for entertainment and unique experiences we need to adjust the content delivery and make learning a positive outcome after we've developed the more longer-term valuable feelings, flow, and challenge aspects of a lesson. So let's flip the dynamic slightly.
Its the positive feelings as your senses come alive when you ride. About being present and soaking up the moment. The lesson should include times to chill and take a moment to soak up the atmosphere. Time to celebrate a small or large achievement as new moves are dialled. A fist pump or a high five goes a long way to develop those positive mental connections to you and the sport. It's about developing an active partnership with the rider. Riding with them, boosting them up, protecting them and having a laugh as you play in the snow.
Flow is about developing that unconscious effort. In a lesson, thinking about how to switch off the riders brain so they can relax into the movements and let the body naturally figure things out. Fun distraction drills that hide the true skill being developed work really well. Throwing a snowball to a rider to catch as they work on their heel edge sideslip. Trying to high five the coach or a small object as they try a tiny straight air on a jump.
These simple and fun drills reduce fear and anxiety as learning comes from a series of small fun achievements they switch off the analytical brain.
Challenge is key in any lesson, but it must be balanced and in tune with their own current skill level. Understand how to build their confidence and skills without pushing them too far. Knowing this level will come in time as clients will often overestimate their abilities when discussing their ability and therefore may be pushed too hard too quickly. Testing skill level with some small development drills first will give you a gauge of their skills and mindset before pushing the challenge level.
At the end of the day we want people to learn. That learning should become the cherry on top of the session. You want to give the rider a lot of what they want and a little of what they need and not running wild trying to teach them everything in one session. Leave a little in the bank so they have a reason to return.
Below are a few examples of my own teaching interactions where I focus on fun drills to switch off the mind and build skills in more hidden entertaining ways.
Fear of Failure. "I’ll look bad in front of people I don’t know"
- People really only notice the best and worst riders. If they're in middle they'll be invisible.
- Most riders are so focused on themselves they don't notice other people much.
- Visualise success and trick progression to help develop a clear game plan.
- Be with them and give them the positive outcomes even if things didn't go 100%.
Fear of Injury. What could happen?
- Breaking down tricks or technical elements into smaller components movements.
- Reverse engineer movements you've dialled to create baby client progression steps.
- Review what might happen and discuss the realistic chances of them occurring.
- Positive self speak to help motivate and clear the mind for the challenge.
Overthink the process.
- Reduce the variables to reduce the fog in the mind. Back to breaking down movements.
- Visualisation to see success and figure out the pathway to the movement.
- Work with them to focus on one key movement first rather than the lofty end goal.
Fear of the unknown
- The reduce stress by limiting the number of attempts to 3 then relax.
- 100% commitment and focus on the drill or task at hand. No half hearted attempts.
- Demonstrate where possible to show key elements of speed, line, power, etc
Impostor syndrome. Am I good enough?
- If you know more that 25% than your clients you’re the expert.
As a coach we need to create build baby steps and subtle techniques to reduce the thinking brain and let the feeling and flow come through with tiny, safe and enjoyable challenges.
We don’t need to explain the whole picture. Just the little essentials to get to the next stage. Don’t correct everything, just make it fun.
You’re the aspirational target. You don’t have to be throwing backflips. You just need to have a flow and personal flavour to you riding that gives them inspiration.
Be real. Fall and laugh. Show the attainable through your effort, but also the fact that falling is part of the journey. Long term clients will latch onto your personal goals and join you for the ride.
This is typically more longer-term focused and is often not required or difficult to adjust in a short lesson. Working on these elements will boost rider confidence and prevent future injuries. This falls broadly into 5 categories.
Lack of agility & flexibility
- Riders often lack range of movement and muscular flexibility.
- A common cause of injury as the body is not used to these movements.
- Basic pop, ollie, jumping drills build agility
- Grabbing the board or other fun movements can start to highly flexibility shortfalls.
Lack of body awareness of proprioception
- As riders move do they truly know where their body is?
- When upside down are they aware of their surroundings?
- When rotating can they adjust in the air for landings?
- Blind turning, or teaming up to support blind falling leaf disconnects the vision and boosts feeling and body awareness.
Lack of body accuracy
- Can they be precise and accurate in their movements?
- Freestyle features require a high degree of accuracy. Test those skills off-feature first.
- Static jumping onto tiny feature or fun games like snowboard football can boost this.
Lack of explosive power
- 100% focused effort that will significantly reduce the risk of injury.
- Riders often lack focused and accurate aggressive power to make moves happen.
- Various flatland tricks and off snow plyometrics can help develop self generating power.
Lack of balance
- The basic foundation of snowsports, yet a very obvious weakness in a lot of riders.
- Can they balance on 1 foot? San they swap between balanced feet?
To solve these problems you'll have to get creative with your own training and the training you provide for your clients. If it's a short session then you'll have to work around their natural physical blocks.
If you're working with clients over a longer period discussions of further training can be approached. However, fitness is very personal so it's prudent to approach these aspects softly. Highlighting their weaknesses through fun drills and games can gives them a realisation of further work that's required without you singling out those weaknesses.
It's good to be aware of different techniques off-snow to help iron out physical weaknesses. To become fully aware of these you should experiment with your own training.
If they’re truly in it for the long game you can suggest those baby steps for long-term benefits.
The key is don’t lecture. Inform and discuss your own journey. Speak from a place of experience and remember that long-lasting change take time.
My own personal fitness journey has taken many different paths in search of areas that would help my snowboarding progress. One such avenue has been parkour. This short video shows some of the drills I've used to help me work towards some more technical freestyle focused moves.
I hope this highlights some extra areas of thought for your coaching. You can view the entire presentation below for a little more information on the topic.